If you’re anything like most Americans, you chew a lot of gum. In fact, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, each of us chews an average of 1.8 pounds of the stuff annually.
Despite what you might assume, we are pleased to report that chewing gum could actually benefit your oral health. The main reason why? The gum increases your saliva production, which rinses your teeth and prevents decay.
But don’t get any big ideas! You still need to brush twice daily and floss once a day to prevent decay. That being said, chewing sugar-free gum can be a healthy addition to your oral health regimen.
Chewing Increases Saliva Flow
Research has demonstrated that chewing sugar-free gum for 20 minutes after a meal can result in a decline in decay. That’s because as you chew, your saliva glands kick into production. That saliva rinses your mouth, which helps cut down on the bacteria and food particles that cling to your teeth.
Saliva also transports nutrients to your teeth and can even help neutralize heartburn, since it pushes acids further down your esophagus.
Gum Must be Sugar-Free
The reason why it’s harmful to have leftover food particles on your teeth is that they feed the bacteria that live in your mouth. As the bacteria feed on the food particles, they give off an acid that is harmful to your pearly whites. Chewing sugary gum will only supply these bacteria with more sugar to feed on, so you should make sure you’re choosing sugar-free products.
Just because gum is sugar-free, doesn’t mean it doesn’t taste good! Sugar-free gum is actually sweetened, but with sugar alcohols that your saliva doesn’t break down. These sweeteners usually go by names like aspartame, xylitol, sorbitol, and mannitol.
Chewing Gum Precautions
Sugar-free gum is great for helping you to maintain oral health and is perfectly safe with proper use. However, there are some important things to keep in mind:
- Xylitol, a sweetener commonly used in sugar-free gum, is toxic to dogs, (even though it’s safe for humans) so keep it out of reach of your furry friends.
- If you wear braces, try to avoid chewing gum. It can get stuck in your braces and place strain on your wires.
- You may have heard that gum takes 7 years to digest. This isn’t true, so don’t panic if you accidentally swallow a piece! On the other hand, swallowing large amounts of gum in short periods of time can cause a dangerous intestinal blockage, so make sure you supervise children if they’re chewing gum.
If you want to learn more about the benefits of chewing sugar-free gum, contact your dentist for more information.